History with Cy [ 26:56 ] Introduction to Ancient Greek Colonies.
I’ve always been fascinated by both colonization and diaspora communities – whether conquistadors conquering the world for gold and god or the Irish fleeing famine.
What makes people leave their homelands to start a new life in a completely different place?
These days, moving to a new country is easier than ever.
We’ve pretty much mapped the entire surface of the earth.
All of its continents, oceans, mountain ranges, rivers and even relatively inaccessible areas such as the heart of the Amazon rainforest or the icy mountains of Antarctica.
With the exception of restrictions due to global pandemics, travel between continents has never been easier
This, however, was not the case for the people of the country that we today know as Greece.
Despite having few if any of the advantages that we have today, within the span of a few centuries they had established colonies that in many cases became some of the greatest cities in all of antiquity.
Several of these cities still thrive today
Let’s examine the stories of these brave and highly capable people as well as some of the places that they spread out to in this program on ancient Greek colonies.
Between roughly the years 750 to about 550 BC, a number of Greek city-states – in what’s today mainland Greece, its nearby islands, as well as the west coast of what’s today modern Turkey – established trading outposts in separate cities along the shores of the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black seas.
We generally call this process of outward expansion “Greek colonization”.
What makes these colonies extremely interesting is that they were founded at different times, by the people of different city-states, for different reasons.
There was no coordinated or centralized planning amongst city-states.
If anything there was fierce competition for whatever foreign land might still have been available
Most of the eastern Mediterranean had already been occupied by the great kingdoms and empires of the near east.
Such places were already too populated and unsafe for a massive influx of foreign colonists
Thus early Greek colonies were set up in less populated and less hostile regions
Places such as southern Italy large islands such as sicily Sardinia and Corsica the southern coasts of what’s today France and Spain northern Africa and east to the lands surrounding the Black sea.
Basically, wherever conditions still remained favorable and any local resistance could be subdued.
Why would people leave their homes, and everything they knew, to venture into what was often a distant and relatively unknown land to start a new life?
Such a journey clearly posed many risks – as who really knew what was out there?
The reasons, though, for leaving often greatly outweighed those for staying in what was rapidly becoming an untenable situation in the motherland
One major problem in the 8th century BC was overpopulation.
With the Greek speaking peoples adopting better agricultural techniques and technologies what little arable land Greece had became much more productive.
This increased crop yields which provided more food for consumption and ultimately led to an increase in the population
However there was only so much land to go around
If one were to visit or even simply take a look at Greece and some of the surrounding areas on a map they’d soon realize that it’s not a very big place.
What’s more is that the majority of the terrain is quite rocky and so the percentage of arable farmland that can actually be used to grow crops is really quite small and most of that had been owned for generations by aristocrats who were not inclined to share it with the general public.
What was able to be used in time ended up not being enough to feed the general population and so the citizens of many Greek city-states had to look outside their boundaries for good farmland
In addition, many of the existing farms had been divided and subdivided among sons several times until the plots that remained were too small to support entire families.
Such restrictions didn’t apply overseas –where there was no aristocracy (at least initially) and second, third and fourth sons could obtain their own plots of land that could be several times larger than anything they could have dreamed to have obtained in their home city-state.
Another reason –or perhaps motivation –for seeking one’s fortune abroad was for better trading opportunities and the acquisition of natural resources.
Being a maritime people the Greeks since Mycenaean times had traveled the seas and come into contact with many different peoples –several of which they had forged trading relationships with.
While these trade networks had mostly dissolved during Greece’s so-called Dark Age, by the 9th and 8th centuries BC they had resumed once again and were probably even more extensive and lucrative than in centuries past.
Along with groups of Phoenicians from the Levant – who at any time were either partners or rivals – Greek speaking peoples were some of the most successful maritime traders of the iron age.
Thus many chose to take their chances on the high seas rather than to remain on land where they had few options for work outside of farming, herding, various craft industries or, in many cases, fighting as mercenaries.
Given the lucrative international trade opportunities overseas, it’s no surprise that some of the earliest Greek colonies were at the confluence of popular trade routes.